Special Enforcement Unit makes 20 arrest of alleged drug dealers in west and south Berkeley in one night; Chief says more are soon to follow
Residents of west Berkeley gathered Thursday night to hear details about the arrest of 20 suspected drug dealers individuals for trafficking narcotics and to discuss ways to continue to clean up their neighborhood.
The meeting was attended by longtime neighborhood residents, city officials and members of the Berkeley Police Department. It came as a result of concern within the community over drug activity and related violence and theft. Though residents were hopeful that the recent arrests would mitigate drug activity in the neighborhood, many felt more work needs to be done.
“I think the ball has started rolling. We’re only going to work harder,” said Erik Upson, Beat Officer for the BPD in west Berkeley. According to Upson, the department has been focusing first and foremost on drug dealing in the west Berkeley neighborhood bordered by San Pablo Avenue to the east, Dwight Way to the south and Bancroft Avenue to the north.
“Most of the problems come from drug dealing activity - vandalism, violence, traffic, the general perception of disharmony,” said Upson.
The 20 arrests come after a three-month surveillance operation conducted by the department’s Special Enforcement Unit, a unit formed to reduce illicit behavior. The department secured 42 indictments from the Alameda County Grand jury resulting in arrest warrants for individuals involved in the sale of narcotics. According to Police Chief Dash Butler, efforts are under way to find the remaining individuals with outstanding warrants.
A Police Review Commission Community Forum was held Wednesday night at the same sight, Rosa Parks Elementary School, with most residents defending the BPD. Community members at Wednesday’s meeting claimed that drug violence plagued West Berkeley not police brutality.
Many of the same concerns carried over to Thursday’s meeting as residents asked officials what could be done on a community wide basis to lessen drug activity and violence. Officials emphasized that the police can not control the situation alone and urged residents to be watchful and to work with the police.
City Manager Weldon Rucker addressed the need for all city officials to participate in neighborhood issues. “We need a partnership between the city and the community. If we are creative and innovative we can come up with solutions with you. The entire city government has to step forward,” said Rucker.
The issue of holding property owners responsible for the tenants they house was also discussed.
“We need to work cooperatively with property owners, to set community standards and live a quality life,” said Rucker. “We have to ask ourselves how do we reach the demands when the community is raising the bar. We have to reenergize and reinvigorate ourselves.”
Councilmember Margaret Breland, who lives near 10th and Allston, an intersection highlighted at the meeting for high drug activity, helped organize Wednesday’s forum.
Breland noted that activity had decreased recently but that things have a way of repeating themselves.
“Don’t relax. Hopefully everything will stay quiet but these people are smart, they’re street smart. Let’s keep our eyes open,” advised Breland.
According to Artensia Barry, a resident of west Berkeley for the past 8 years, community members need to communicate and work together to solve these problems.
“There’s no communication between community members. You can live on the same block for 20 years here and you don’t know your neighbor’s name,” said Barry.
Barry suggested that residents need to take steps to inform each other of problem. Residents also discussed the need for bilingual officers from the BPD to communicate with and involve the Hispanic population in the neighborhood in community action.
“We can’t do it alone. Our task is to mitigate some of the violence. It has to be a balanced approach with the treatment and prevention programs coupled with the hard-core crackdown,” said Butler.